Died April 25,1994
Robert D. Knapp was born in December 1897 in Moreland, Ga. He attended Alabama Polytechnic Institute, and during World War I he served as a private first class in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, from Oct. 2, 1917, until March 9, 1918, when he was appointed a second lieutenant in the Aviation Section, Signal Reserve. He remained on continuous active duty and was commissioned a second lieutenant of Air Service in the Regular Army on July 1, 1920.
As an enlisted man he served with a detachment of flying cadets at Rich Field, Waco, Texas. Upon being commissioned he transferred to Ellington Field, Texas, as a flying instructor, and in August 1918 joined the 92nd Squadron at Ford Junction Airdrome, Sussex, England. In November 1918 he returned to the United States for duty with the 1st Provincial Wing, Long Island, N.Y. He was then ordered to the Panama Canal Zone for service with the 7th Aero Squadron at France Field from February until July 1919, when he returned to the United States and proceeded to El Paso, Texas, for duty with the 96th Aero Squadron as post exchange officer. He subsequently moved to Camp Stephen D. Little, Nogales, Ariz., as squadron adjutant and exchange officer.
He later moved to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he became recreation and intelligence officer, 12th Observation Squadron, until April 1923 when he was ordered to Maxwell Field, Ala., as post exchange officer and post engineering officer. In June 1927 he was transferred to Brooks Field, Texas, where he served as assistant engineering officer, Air Corps Primary Flying School, and flying instructor. During this tour of duty, from January to February 1930, he was detailed as a flying instructor, Flying Instructor's School, Kelly Field, Texas. He was designated as director of flying, Air Corps Primary Flying School, Brooks Field, Texas, from July until September 1930, and then served as operations officer and commandant of cadets, Air Corps Primary Flying School.
He assumed command of the 44th Observation Squadron, France Field, Panama Canal Zone, in September 1931, and the following December was named to command the 7th Observation Squadron at that same post. He served in this capacity until July 1934 when he returned to the United States as post operations officer, Kelly Field, Texas. He subsequently served as director of flying training at Kelly Field until August 1937 when he was detailed to the Air Corps Tactical School, Maxwell Field, Ala. He graduated in June 1938 and moved to Little Rock, Ark., where he became instructor, 15th Observation Squadron, Arkansas National Guard.
From October 1940 until July 1941, he served at Langley Field, Va., as executive officer, 2nd Wing, General Headquarters Air Force, and commanding officer, 38th Bombardment Group, successively. He then moved to Jackson Army Air Base, Miss., in command of the 38th Bombardment Group. He was assigned to command the 21st Bombardment Group at that same station in February 1942. From July until September 1942 he was stationed in Columbia, S.C., with the III Bomber Command, and then became group commander, 321st Bombardment Group, at Walterboro, S.C., until December 1943. He commanded the 12th Bomber Command from December 1943 to September 1944, and the 57th Bombardment Wing from 1944 to 1945.
He is rated a command pilot, combat observer and aircraft observer.
He was promoted to first lieutenant on July 1, 1920; captain, Aug. 1, 1931; major (temporary), March 16, 1935; major (permanent), Aug. 15, 1939; lieutenant colonel (temporary), Dec. 30, 1940; lieutenant colonel (permanent), Dec. 18, 1941; colonel (temporary), Jan. 5, 1942; brigadier general (temporary), Feb. 22, 1944.
His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star and eight Air Medals. He was awarded the Silver Star in 1943 with the following citation:
"For gallantry in action. On March 31, 1943, Colonel Knapp took off on a sea search mission leading fourteen B-25 airplanes. The weather was bad with rain squalls and poor visibility to a point about twenty miles out to sea. The fighter escort and six of the B-25 bombers became separated in the bad weather and returned to base. Colonel Knapp gallantly continued the search with the remaining eight bombers. At 12:55 a convoy of six ships, two of them large with fighter and marine escort, was sighted. Colonel Knapp's formation was attacked by fourteen enemy fighter aircraft, and although the tail of Colonel Knapp's lead aircraft was damaged by two explosive shells and machine gun bullets, he gallantly and skillfully led the formation in destroying one enemy aircraft, damaging four, and losing the others in the clouds. Colonel Knapp then gallantly led the formation back to the convoy, climbed to forty-five hundred feet, and made the bomb run, sinking one large ship and seriously damaged another. By his gallantry and devotion to duty on this occasion, Colonel Knapp has upheld the highest traditions of the Army Air Forces."
(Biography compiled with information from the Biographical Dictionary of World War II Generals and Flag Officers by R. Manning Ancell with Christine M. Miller.)